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Top Turkish official says Gulen dragnet a win

April 5, 2018

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag says Turkey's National Intelligence Organization has nabbed about 80 citizens in covert operations in 18 countries. He accused the people captured of links to the 2016 coup attempt.

Students hold up signs as they protest for their teachers to be freed after they were extradited from Kosovo to Turkey
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Nimani

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told Haberturk television that Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has captured 80 citizens accused of following the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen in operations in 18 countries.

The figure of 80 disclosed by Bozdag on Thursday runs much higher than previously assumed and indicates that the MIT has ordered people taken in the past without publishing the information. He did not divulge the operational details or say which countries.

Read moreFrom ally to scapegoat: Fethullah Gulen, the man behind the myth

Turkish officials have chased members of the Gulen movement domestically and abroad ever since accusing the cleric of masterminding the 2016 attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His government has arrested about 38,000 people accused of links to Gulen and fired 110,000 public servants since the coup attempt, which resulted in more than 250 deaths.

Erdogan's government has also vowed to wipe out Gulen's influence abroad, where it has built up a network of schools. Authorities in Ankara have pressured counterparts to close Gulenist schools and extradite staff members with Turkish citizenship, branding them as terrorists.

March's deportations from Kosovo, which drew sharp criticism from human rights groups, were carried out so quietly that even top officials — including Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj — did not know about them until after the fact. Haradinaj fired the country's interior minister and intelligence chief for their deception but, for the extradited men, five teachers and a doctor who worked in schools and a clinic supported by Gulen's movement, the damage had already been done.

No illegal abductions

Ibrahim Kalin, President Erdogan's press secretary, denies that the government has ordered illegal abductions. He insists, for example, that authorities had worked out an arrangement with their counterparts in Kosovo to extradite the six men secretly and without process.

"We have never engaged in any illegal act in our struggle against (Gulen's movement)," Kalin said. "The event in Kosovo took place ... within the framework of an agreement on the return of criminals."

Without disclosing details, Bozdag trumpeted the events in Kosovo as an example of the MIT's success. He also pledged that "intelligence service operations similar to that in Kosovo will continue." Turkey remains under a state of emergency, which Bozdag expects officials to extend.

Officials in Ankara have also targeted journalists since the coup. Many civil servants and diplomats have sought sanctuary in countries abroad, often in Germany, to escape what they consider to be an increasingly repressive state.    

mkg/ng (AFP, dpa, AP)

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